It’s official: New fee to help build up street program

HARLINGEN — The city plans to “ramp up” its street repairs and just about everyone is going to pay for it.

After months of debate, city commissioners have approved the ordinance allowing an additional monthly fee to water utility customers.

The charge is projected to raise about $1.4 million to help fund street projects.

The ordinance requires officials to earmark the fee’s revenues for street improvements.

Now, officials plan to determine the amount of money they will pull from the city’s $42 million general fund to subsidize the new revenue, City Manager Dan Serna said.

“The intent is to ramp up our street overlay program and do streets on a more consistent basis year after year,” Serna said.

As they prepare to work on their budget for the upcoming fiscal year, officials plan to earmark money from the general fund for street projects, Serna said.

“We’ll go through the budget process and evaluate (department) requests to make sure we meet our service needs and evaluate how much money we’ll set aside for streets,” Serna said.

In the last few years, he said, officials have funded street programs ranging from about $380,000 to $1.2 million.

Community Development Block Grant money could help fund some street projects, he said.

“The intent is to add as much as we can,” Serna said. “This year will be no different. We’re not just going to rely on the street fee.”

Serna said he plans to “stretch” dollars to fund costly road work.

Estimates show the cost of paving a one-mile street section is about $467,000, he said.

Every year, he said, the city improves 2.5 to 3 miles of the 260 total miles of streets within the city.

A street’s lifespan ranges from six to 12 years, depending on its traffic volume, Assistant City Manager Carlos Sanchez said.

The new fee replaces the city’s so-called infrastructure fee charging utility customers $1 a month to help fund projects such as public building improvements.

Under the new ordinance, utility bills will include a monthly $2.50 fee for apartments and other multi-family units; a $2.50 monthly fee for single-family homes using 1,000 gallons of water a month of less; a $4.50 monthly fee for single-family homes using more than 1,000 gallons a month; and an $8.50 monthly fee for commercial accounts.

The fee will raise about $1.4 million a year to help fund street projects.

The ordinance creates a five-year program identifying streets for improvements.

Across town, the ordinance apparently drew little opposition from residents.

But some want to know why the city did not raise the property tax rate instead of charging utility customers for street projects.

Serna said a tax increase would not specifically set aside money for street improvements.

Under the ordinance, he said, officials are required to use the money to fund street projects.

Harlingen becomes the latest Texas city to charge utility customers for street repairs.

Other Texas cities charging residential and commercial fees to fund street improvements include Austin, Corpus Christi, Kingsville, Richmond, Lampasas, College Station, Taylor, Bryan and Lumberton.

Some cities’ fees range from $5 to $12 a month for single-family homes and $5 to $250 a month for commercial accounts.

By the Numbers

$2.50 fee for apartments and other multi-family units

$2.50 monthly fee for single-family homes using 1,000 gallons of water a month of less

$4.50 monthly fee for single-family homes using more than 1,000 gallons a month

$8.50 monthly fee for commercial users